Tag Archives: Desert hiking

I Walked on an Ancient Sea Bed, and Didn’t Even Get My Feet Wet

At one point on our hike, we climbed up a cliff that was once the bed of an ancient sea.  The ground was littered with invertebrate fossils.

At one point the ground was littered with fossils, lying on the bed of an ancient sea.

Fall has returned to San Diego, and that means the season for desert camping in the Anza Borrego Desert has also returned.  On our latest adventure with Sam’s Boy Scout troop, 27 boys and parents set off on an overnight backpacking excursion to the Domelands in the Coyote Mountains Wilderness.  The hike in was 5 miles (we went the long way and had a lovely walk through desert washes and along ridge lines), while the hike out was a leisurely 3 mile trek.

Our destination was the New Wind Caves, which are ancient fossilized sand dunes that rise up from the desert floor.  Wind and water have carved out caves of all sizes, some large enough to sleep a dozen scouts!  Our troop calls this trip the New Wind Caves, to distinguish it from the Wind Caves, another area we camp at nearby (see my post A Desert Sunset, Moonrise, Moonset, and Sunrise).

Besides being a beautiful desert and badland landscape, this area is renowned for the many fossils that can be seen, literally littering the ground.  About 5 million years ago what is now desert was covered by the warm, tropical Imperial Sea, which was full of abundant and diverse marine life.  By about 1 million years ago, after the sea disappeared, the land was dotted with lake, grassland, and stream environments.

The Domelands are an amazing place to observe the remnants of this life, though collecting is prohibited.  Some of the fossils we saw were cemented into fossilized reefs, while others, such as sand dollars the size of your palm and other invertebrates like oysters, scallops, clams, snails, mussels, and sea biscuits, were scattered loose on the ground or embedded in sandstone.   A photo gallery of our trip is below, full of inspiring views, astounding fossils, tenacious plant life, and adorable Boy Scouts.  And some crusty parents too!  Click on the photos to get a better view.

Our group of 17 scouts and 10 adults looking fresh.  Not for long.

Our group of scouts and adults looking fresh. Not for long.

A line of hikers heading into the desert.

A line of hikers heading into the desert.  Our packs are full of delicious snacks and refreshing water, while our eyes are full of panoramic views of the surrounding desert.

We continue our trek.  Some desert plant life, which survives with almost no rainfall.

We continue our trek. Plant life in the desert, which can survive with almost no rainfall, has my undying respect and admiration.

Down in the washes and canyons we began to find our first evidence of fossils.  On the top is a fossilized reef, while boys hold fossil clams and oysters.

Down in the washes and canyons we began to find our first evidence of fossils. On the top is a fossilized reef, while boys hold fossil clams and oysters they found on the ground.

After heading down washes for awhile, our fearless leaders decided we needed head up, so we did.  We scurried up a loose hillside, the kind where it is a good idea to keep going forward so you don't start slipping down!  Oysters anyone?

After heading down washes for awhile, our fearless leaders decided we needed head up, so we did. We scurried up a loose hillside, the kind where it is a good idea to keep going forward so you don’t start slipping back down!  There was a nice breeze and great view at the top.  Oysters anyone?

Rest stop

After several hours of hiking we found a nice little rest stop, complete with fossils (of course!), caves, and even some patches of shade. We rested, ate, and explored while Mr. W. and Mr. M. ran ahead to get a feeling for how much further the caves were.

Ancient sea bed

Time to move out!  As we hiked out of the canyon where we had rested, up another ridge, we were captivated by the number and diversity of fossils right under our feet. We were climbing up an ancient sea bed. When I mentioned how cool this was, Evan replied that he wished he was an ancient fish so he could swim up the sea bed to the top of the ridge.

The view from the top.

Desert view.  Washes are below us, more ridges above.

I know it seems like we keep having to climb up ridge after ridge, but we are intrepid scouts!  This really was the last one though.  You can see my Sam up there waving at me.

I know it seems like we kept climbing up ridge after ridge, but we are intrepid scouters! This really was the last one though. You can see my Sam up there waving at me.

When we arrived at the Wind Caves we hunted around for a nice spot.  Sam and I found one that was shaped like a bathtub, and was pretty sheltered from the wind.  Fossils are lined up on a shelf in another cave.

After we arrived at the Wind Caves, everyone hunted around for a nice spot to settle in. Sam and I found one that was shaped like a bathtub, and was pretty sheltered from the wind. Fossils are lined up on a shelf in another cave.

Home sweet home, for a night.

Home sweet home, for a night.

Night falls fast and hard in the desert in November.  We had a few hours to relax and explore, before we got out the Jetboils to make our delicious ramen.  Nolan works on his shadow puppetry.

Night falls fast and hard in the desert in November. We had a few hours to relax and explore, before we got out the Jetboils to make our delicious ramen. After dinner Nolan worked on his shadow puppetry.  Sam and I snuggled down into our cave at about 7:30!  Good thing I brought a book.

We were up with the sun, and the wind that started to blow pretty hard the night before was still at it.  It made for a hazy, dusty, blustery hike out.  It made us appreciate the crystal clear weather we had on the hike in.

We were up with the sun, and the wind that started to blow pretty hard the night before was still at it.  We had a quick breakfast, packed up, did a head count (we are supposed to come back with as many scouts as we start out with), shouldered our packs, and hit the trail.

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The windy conditions made for a hazy, dusty, blustery hike out.  It made us appreciate all the more the crystal clear weather and gorgeous views we had on the hike in.

Sam and Mo, Mo and Sam.  We had a splendid adventure with our scouting friends, and are eagerly awaiting our next trip to the desert in December.  Until then, the pictures and memories will have to carry us through...

Sam and Mo, Mo and Sam. We had a splendid adventure with our scouting friends, and are eagerly awaiting our next trip to the desert in December. Until then, the pictures and memories will have to carry us through…

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Filed under Boy Scout Troop 985 Adventures, Travel

Uno, Dos, Tres Cabezas

Three rock heads

A rock formation that resembles a head, in three different lights.  It loomed above our campsite on the crest of a ridge.  The area is called Dos Cabezas, or Two Heads, for rock formations resembling heads that perch on the hillside.

Gentle readers, it is time for another installment of…off-roading, four-wheeling, dust-covered, gear-mashing, rock-avoiding, wash board-loving vehicles, and the men who love them.  Oh yeah, and we did some desert camping with the Boy Scouts again.

Once again I managed NOT to drive when Sam’s Boy Scout troop headed out to camp in the wilds of the Anza Borrego desert.  I have a four wheel drive Outback, but the clearance is not great, which is the excuse I use for not driving.  Unlike the dads in our troop, who love driving their trucks and SUVs up and down dirt roads, careening over boulders, and brushing into ocotillo and scrub, I prefer to sit comfortably in the passenger seat of Tony’s Ford Expedition and admire the landscape.

Amazingly, we had PERFECT weather for this trip, from start (when we gathered in the Von’s parking lot at 6:00 AM (except for Mr. R. who overslept, thus catching up on his beauty sleep)) to finish, (when we cruised back to San Diego on the 8, passing giant windmills, the Golden Acorn Casino, and the many cameras at the Border Patrol checkpoint (say cheese!)).

The troop hopped on a highway heading east from San Diego, and when we reached the middle of nowhere, we turned off on to a dirt road.  The landscape was bare and beautiful, full of amazing geology and desert plant life.  In the past few years the desert has also become home to many giant windmills, which are beautiful and impressive in a way, but also quite an intrusion on the wilderness.

Windmill

We stopped on our way out, to wait for the folks at the back to catch up.  Nice view of mountains, cactus, and big vehicles.

We stopped on our way out, to wait for the folks at the back to catch up. Nice view of mountains, cactus, and big vehicles.  (For a better view of any of the pics, double click for a closer look.)

After we arrived in the area where we were planning to camp, we settled on our sites, pitched the tents, ate some lunch, and then Mr. H. gathered the scouts together to head out on a few day hikes.

Going hiking

Our first destination was a Montero palm oasis, filled with at least 50 huge palm trees.  We hiked up a canyon, to the oasis surrounded by boulder-strewn hillsides.  The palms have never been trimmed, and their skirts of old leaves stretch from their crown to the ground.  The scouts all immediately scattered, to scramble up the hillsides, or investigate the nooks and crannies of the palm grove.

Off hiking

Off we go to the palm oasis.

Rock cairn marking the trail.

Rock cairn marking the trail.

Big palm trees.

Big palm trees.  Can you find the scout leaders?

Irvin and Andrew bring their attitude along for the hike.  Smells like teen spirit...

Irvin and Andrew bring their attitude along for the hike. Smells like teen spirit…

More scouts in the palms.  J.D.'s hair color almost exactly matches the palm skirt.

More scouts in the palms. J.D.’s hair color almost exactly matches the palm skirt.

Lots of rocks to crawl over and under.

Lots of rocks to crawl over and under.

A big rock on the hillside above us that looked just like a foot.

A big rock on the hillside above us that looked just like a foot.

Scout buddies.

Scout buddies.

The view down to the valley, with windmills in the distance.

The view down to the valley, with windmills in the distance.

We spent an hour or so in the grove, and then hiked back down to our cars at the trail head.  I saw this perfect little desert bonsai tree on the way down.

Bonzai desert tree

We also saw morteres, or grinding holes, on the hike down. Kumeyaay Indians used to mash acorns in these holes when they stayed in seasonal villages in the area.  Mr. R. demonstrates the technique.  Doesn’t he look well rested?

We all saw morteres, or Indian grinding holes, on the hike down.  Kumeyyay Indians used to grind acorns when they stayed in seasonal villages in the area.

We rested for a bit, refilled our water from containers in the car, and then drove a sort distance to our second hike in the Piedras Grandes (Big Rocks) area, just a mile or so away.

Older scouts look cool when the rest, younger scouts ham it up.

Older scouts look cool when they rest, younger scouts ham it up.

Dads and Mr. M's big red Ford, festooned with a wreath for the holidays.

The dads with Mr. M’s big red Ford, festooned with a wreath for the holidays.

At the trail head to Piedras Grandes, there was this weird ocotillo branch, that looked like an alien head.

At the trail head I saw this weird looking ocotillo branch, it looks like an alien head.

The hike was along a crushed rock trail, which was almost like hiking in beach sand.  It was a gradual but constant uphill trek, and took a bit out of all of us, as we walked along in the afternoon sun.  But there were incredible views to be had all around, from the rock formations forming walls to either side, to the fields of golden cholla cactus marching into the distance.

Desert hiking.

Desert hiking.

Rock formations

Desert plants

Pictographs

The shadows started to lengthen, and it was time to head back to camp.  Night falls fast in the desert, and we had to start thinking about dinner.

2nd hike heading back

Back at camp we took a moment to appreciate Andrew’s Clint Eastwood impression.

Clint

And while the dads cooked…

Camp pano

…I hiked up the hillside with a few boys for a look at the sunset.  It wasn’t full of spectacular color, but the muted pinks and blues were still quite pretty.  And the landscape was awesome.

Mo+desert sunset

We ate great food, hung out around the fire, and tried to watch for Geminid meteors, but with an almost full moon, it was challenging to spot them.  After 2 hikes, a huge dinner, and a few hours of chatting by the fire, I hit the hay.  And that’s when the miracle happened.  I actually got a good night’s sleep!  For the first time in forever when camping!!  Yeah for me!!!

In the morning we had some breakfast…

Scouts cooking with the patrol boxes; boys with grilled cuties.

Scouts cooking with the patrol boxes; boys with grilled cuties.

…Mr. K. said a few words…

End.camp

…and we drove to our last desert adventure of the trip, a visit on the way out to an abandoned railroad station.  The building was torn down awhile ago, as it was deemed hazardous, but the foundation remains, along with an old water tower, and, of course, railroad tracks.  Before we left camp we got a picture of the “No Shooting” sign, which was full of bullet holes.  Sam thought this was very funny.

No shooting

Water tower

Water tower at the abandoned railroad station.

Sam running down the railroad tracks.

Sam running down the railroad tracks.

Final pic of the scouts, a group photo at the abandoned train station.  Back to civilization...

Final pic of the scouts, a group photo at the abandoned train station. Back to civilization…

It is pleasant to get home from these trips and take a hot shower, put on clean clothes, and check my email.  But I always think about the places we left behind, as I am lying in my comfy bed, wondering about the quiet nights and hot days, the rocks and plants, and the big sky.  It’s nice to think back and know it is all still out there.

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Filed under Boy Scout Troop 985 Adventures, Family, Travel